Earning a representative jersey of any colour should be the proudest moment of a players career. It should be acknowledgement of the fact that a player has reached a new level in their game and that their ability has been recognized by entering a rare club of talented players that get the chance to play representative football.
That isn’t what Rugby League has established though. Rugby League has established a free for all scramble that see’s coaches looking for loopholes in an already dodgy looking set of eligibility rules that allows many players to take their pick of half a dozen representative teams that they would like to play for.
It doesn’t matter which team we are talking about. New South Wales, Queensland, Australia, England, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, France, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga….they all are guilty of it. Sure Australia has an advantage in terms of the financial rewards they can promise players, but England and New Zealand have been guilty of using financial incentive to lure players into their representative set ups as well.
It is now at a point where representative teams don’t really represent much of anything. They are simply glorified franchises that are owned and operated by the governing body itself. A player recruitment system is in place with all of these teams and players are made aware of the financial rewards they can expect by choosing one team over another.
This is an environment that has been created by administrators who do not care about what is best for the game. All these people care about is money.
Instead of Rugby League being able to hold itself up as an example of true representative football what we have is a chaotic joke that is used as a punchline by other sports. After all, only in Rugby League could you hold the World Cup in last 2013 and then have specific rules in place that state that who you played for during that tournament does not matter as soon as the final is over!
Over the last 20 years Rugby League has changed a lot. There are so many players there days that were born in different parts of the world that ply their trade on Rugby League fields that the game really should be proud of its growth internationally.
There are Rugby League fans right now who were born and raised in places like the United States, Germany, Fiji, Italy, Canada and the like. They love the game as much as you or I do, and some of these people play the game despite the fact that their friends and family have never heard of Rugby League.
We have star players that come from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. Who were born and raised in these countries and who were signed by NRL clubs who could see the talent they possessed.
Basically, we have a lot of players who, if they played for the country they were born in, would form the base of some pretty handy international teams.
Would they challenge Australia? No. I would say this however…
If you took James Tamou out of the Australian side and gave him to New Zealand, his country of birth, the Kangaroo’s forward pack is just that little bit worse off and the Kiwi’s forward pack would be just that little bit better.
If our representative teams really did represent the states of nations they claimed to, how would that change the result of games we watch? Would the Kangaroo’s not be World Cup winners? Would Queensland be on its record setting State Of Origin winning streak? I tend to think both sides would still be achieving the same success they have now.
What about everyone else though? Imagine how much better Fiji would be over the years had Australia not enticed Petero Civoniceva, Lote Tuqiri and Akuila Uate to play for them. How about New Zealand where Tonie Carroll, Brad Thorn, Josh Papalii, Ben Te’o, along with a host of others had no choice but to play for the Kiwi’s?
Jack Reed is a great example of this idea in practice. He could very easily be classed as an Australian and Queensland eligible player, even though he was born in England. A lot of pressure was put on Reed to make himself available for Queensland but to his credit he chose to represent England instead. That decision (When he is fit to play) gives England a class player that they normally wouldn’t have had. It makes a big difference to a representative team when they can call on talent of their own rather than having them stolen by someone else.
If Rugby League’s representative teams really did represent something, wouldn’t players value their jerseys more? If a Papua New Guinea jersey, a Maroon jersey, a Kiwi jersey or a Kangaroo’s jersey was a birthright rather than a negotiation, wouldn’t players be more likely to be so honoured to wear that jersey that they would never withdraw from a team?
Would the Rugby League world crumble if Australia couldn’t select Kiwi’s, if the Kiwi’s couldn’t select Tongans, and if the Fijians were allowed to hold onto their own players?
How much easier would it be to market representative football if all you had to tell a new fan of the game was that “The players running out there for the Samoan team were all born in Samoa, and the players running out there for Fiji were all born in Fiji”?
How much more interest would we generate for the international game if you could tell totally uncommitted Welsh, Irish, American or Italian people that their was not full of Aussies and Kiwi’s who are just looking for a run, but full of their own countrymen?
Wouldn’t we have more passion for the Trans-Tasman test on Friday night is, as Australian’s and New Zealander’s we truly could say “Its us against them!”?
Administrators have undermined our representative football teams so that they don’t represent anything any more. They don’t care who plays for their own teams, so why should anyone else care?
Good luck telling a player born and raised overseas that they shouldn’t pick up a representative match payment because it would be better to play 2 or 3 games for their country of birth over the next four teams instead.
Representative football has become a farce of players and coaches negotiating deals so that they can all improve their own financial positions. It has little to do with where you come from or who you identify yourself as being as a person and as a player.
When you remove the value that something holds you can not be surprised when no one values it any more. Instead of Rugby League having a rich, diverse, representative landscape, we are left with a scramble for money.
Maybe instead of wearing Sky Blue, Maroon, Red and White, Black and White or Green and Gold, they should all just run out there wearing green jerseys and represent the all mighty dollar that they are all chasing.
At the very least someone at some point needs to ask, if people are not interesting in representative football, maybe we should look at making a few changes and giving the people what they want.